Harry’s Dolce Vita
Gilo, G-Linz, TPB, JD: The middle-aged men are back in town!
Yes, as lengthily documented on Instagram, this week Giles Coren once again assembled his lunch-having supergroup — The Eatles? Fed Zeppelin? — to check out some place in Brighton. Tune in to The Times at some point over the next few weeks to see where the four ended up, and remember to savour those inevitably hilarious jokes about Jonathan Downey’s regional accent. Banter.
In the meantime, Giles is off to Harry’s Dolce Vita, via the sort of shaggy-dog digression — a second-by-second transcript of what feels like a two hour contretemps at the door of Balenciaga — that makes even American heavy hitters like Pete Wells and Francis Lam sit up and take notice.
As Coren’s ecstatic, very food-focused review of Dabbous way back in 2012 reflected, these detours used to come around a little more regularly, and arguably represent something of a dying, quintessentially British art form in their own right: there’s a peculiar, particular skill in packing an entire restaurant review into a few spare paragraphs after one has wanged on at length about the weather, or Test cricket, or one’s heart-warming attempts to sate one’s wife’s desire for a £600-quid hoodie.
The double-reduced, ultra-condensed version of this particular review in miniature: Harry’s Dolce Vita is “wonderful,” Nduja flatbread and house carpaccio are both “terrific,” as are “unusually slim and crispy” zucchini fritti. Taglioni with white truffle is “delicious,” pappardelle al ragu is “excellent,” the coffee is also “excellent,” and whilst a novelty Toadstool dessert is admittedly “bonkers,” the whole comes together as a “gleaming” representation of “what a nice time rich people can have and how much money they can spend, if you only let them in.”
Beach Blanket Babylon
The total legends behind Beach Blanket Babylon are probably wishing they’d found a way to bar Marina O’Loughlin from entering, given the hammering she gives their inner-city glamping ground in this week’s Sunday Times. This is a meal “so grim” O’Loughlin is “baffled” that BBB “still exists at all,” a progression of “Berni Inn circa 1976” food that features “easily the worst” risotto MO’L has ever tasted, “overcooked” salmon, and “cauterised” confit duck. It’s all captured in gleefully malevolent simile: that duck is reminiscent of “blowtorched pterodactyl”, that risotto is “a vast soup plate of fused greige sludge that shudders to the touch,” the mushrooms on top of it “have the swampy consistency of the recently detinned, with a back note of haunted anchovy.” This is a review that flatly goes against Coren’s vision of the dolce vita enjoyed by the made in Chelsea: the rich, O’Loughlin instead argues, are “different” from normal folk, readily seduced by “flashy and photogenic” settings and totally impassive in the face of hospitality that can barely summon the energy to move beyond crushingly “indifferent.”
Also braving West London this week is David Sexton, deputising for Fay Maschler as she takes refuge after an incendiary tweet put hipster vegans in the unusual position of baying for blood.
He’s at Enoteca Rosso, which occupies a “big and difficult space” on Kensington High Street that feels fundamentally “awkward,” with some “startlingly naff” design accents. Fortunately, the “immense” wine list and a northern Italian menu long on “the rich and the unctuous” both feel more ergonomically satisfying: lardo is “indecently good” (isn’t it always?); truffled salami is “rich, fatty” and (ugh) “moist”; black burrata-stuffed ravioli with pesto are “interesting and unusual.” Under “unusual” one must also surely file Sexton’s description of culatello — “ham as concentrated as Marmite, pronounced Katie” — which resists interpretation just as surely as Enoteca Rosso resists easy classification.
For as much as it offers “ultra-comfort food” and intriguing wines, this is still an odd spot, a curious transplant from Milan that may be a weird fit in a neighbourhood both “rich” and “lacking in warmth”. As both Times critics have observed — and as the enduring success of Sexy Fish illustrates — getting a wealthy person to part with their money is both the easiest and hardest thing on earth: as much as the “vinously minded” in this part of the world “may rejoice”, it’s not hard to imagine that this may not work for the average Kensingtonian long on cash but short on imagination — it may, in the final analysis, simply be too “challenging”.
A rare double substitution over at The Standard this week, following last week’s hilarious and only 50% racist double-review of Nuala. After a couple of cracks of the whip, Julie Burchill makes way for Will Self, a man for whom — according to one of the more remarkable entries in her fever-dream of a Wikipedia page — she once fabricated a long-standing crush with the sole intention of annoying Deborah Orr. Ah, the golden years of print journalism!
Anyway. Self’s in Stockwell, because of course he is. What could be more Selfian than a ramble down sarf London memory lane, dotted with idiosyncratic, recherché verbiage like “quartier” and “spook”?
Unfortunately, those hoping for a return to the red-fanged glory days of Self’s mid-90s Observer restaurant critic run (as immortalised in Feeding Frenzy) may find his review of Stockwell Continental a little lacking in bite: he’s chomping down on gentrification, and hipsters — a tired assemblage that’s been left to cool and coagulate on the pass for a good while now.
Moustache wax, bare filaments, flat whites — it’s all there, all still as done to death as it’s ever been. The food seems a little more vital — ricotta and roast pumpkin is a “magnificent little dish” — but it’s hard to get especially excited about it when the person describing it can muster little more than the summation “all was tasty and well-presented.” As reviews go, it’s probably more interesting than what happened the week before, but for the Self-obsessed, this hardly represents Self-satisfaction.
A different kind of satisfaction in Covent Garden, where Jay Rayner becomes the latest pilgrim to pay homage at the shrine of all things piscine that is Parsons. And it’s a rave: this “small fish restaurant” — no, it doesn’t specialise in whitebait — may not have been “anticipated with sweaty expectation,” but offers “fish cookery to take on any of London’s seafood temples,” and at “half the price,” to boot.
Some “weirdly dull” chargrilled prawns aside, it’s all fabulous: “Goldilocks” chips “rustle” seductively, “like taffeta on taffeta”; brown crab pissaladière is made to “sing” by its tarragon mayo; clam chowder is “an immense bowlful,” a “powerful interplay of smoked bacon, shellfish and potato and cream and indulgence.” As a closing statement, Welsh rarebit is “exactly as it should be,” which is rather a good description of the Parsons project more generally: it’s emerged “seemingly out of nowhere,” but the sheer quality of its execution means more and more people are realising that this small, “utilitarian” spot in Covent Garden is delivering “food you just can’t forget.”